In the heart of a seemingly hopeless ghetto is a school that is saving livesby Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens / August 13, 2012 / Leave a comment
Every country with large, unregulated slums uses nicknames to refer to them: Jamaica has its “shanty towns,” Brazil its favelas, or morros (“hills”), South Africa its “townships.” In Kenya, they are known as “informal settlements,” and some of the most notorious of these are found in the eastern Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh.
Populated largely by Kenya’s Somali diaspora community, it is a hotbed of gang activity, prostitution, drugs and, increasingly in recent years, jihadist recruitment via the Somali based al-Shabaab militia. Yet, in the heart of this seemingly hopeless ghetto is a school that is saving lives. The Maina Wanjigi Secondary School in Eastleigh is offering its young charges an opportunity to escape from the desperation that drives many into the hands of the militia. Although lacking funds, the school fights hard to create an environment of discipline, aspiration and unity among the suburb’s diverse youth.
The approach to the school is wrought through barely traversable roads that look more like sinkholes flooded by stinking, muddy water and open sewers. I have been invited to attend a fundraising and prize-giving event at the school. My host, Sheikh Hassan Omari, who sits on the school‘s board, first has a meeting with the rest of the faculty. While I wait for him, I see a boy in his late teens standing outside the school gates and offer him some money to show me around his area. His name is Hussein. A Muslim, he is one of the few indigenous Kenyans living there.